Victory and Glory: The American Civil War review29 Apr 2020 0
I am not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to the American Civil War. I’m not American, for one, and my academic interests have never really crossed with that crucial, and still relevant, dark chapter of American history. But that just meant I was all the more interested when I booted up Lock ‘n Load’s Victory and Glory: The American Civil War for the first time. I was going to learn something new in the best way: playing a video game, buying and reading some books, then playing that video game again. For those a little more knowledgeable or a little less crazy than I, who just want to play a good wargame based on the American Civil War, I’ve got some good news for you.
Victory and Glory is probably just what you’re looking for. A sequel of sorts to 2016’s Victory and Glory: Napoleon, American Civil War offers several improvements over the previous iteration including more detailed battles and the ability to play both sides of the conflict. The game is still held back by a couple quality of life issues and a bit of a learning curve, but investing a few minutes into reading the manual, or consulting the help menu will get you off to the right start.
Victory and Glory is set up like a traditional tabletop board game, a lovely aesthetic that is carried throughout. The game map, covering the eastern United States and Canada, is beautifully drawn up like a painting, with vignettes of soldiers, camps, and other odds and ends sprinkled throughout. The area around Washington DC and Virginia, which threatens to be crowded, actually blows up into a larger paper map so that there can be no difficulty in figuring out where armies and cities are located. The map itself is separated into areas, with cities placed either wholly within an area, or on a border of several areas. Most cities are connected by rail and there are port boxes for dealing with the naval component of the war.
Things are pretty easy to identify as you’re playing and I only ran into the occasional trouble when the game asked me to place units in certain states’ cities. Not being intimately familiar with the geography of the southern United States, it took a bit of trial and error for the area border cities. Armies are represented by single figures, with a number indicating the amount of units contained in the army. The number is a bit small, but units on both sides can be moved freely around their own area to make sure you can see. Also, there is no hidden information, so clicking on an army will reveal its contents. It all contributes to the board game vibe and I was happy with what Victory and Glory had to offer visually.
The game itself is an area control grand strategy game, with a card playing component and tactical battles. The overall struggle between the Union and the Confederacy is broken down into separate score tracks that model willingness to fight and accomplished objectives. Winning major battles, occupying key cities, or playing certain cards can all contribute to your side’s desire to continue the fight. The game also tosses in an interesting European involvement system. If the Confederates can win enough battles and play the right cards, Europe may recognize them and then, eventually, Britain may declare war on the Union, opening up the war to include British regulars and Canada as a battleground. In theory it means that there are a few ways each playthrough can go.
Aside from the grand strategy layer, players will have to contend with tactical battles on land (sea engagements are automated). These battles can be either minor or major battles. Minor battles have both sides commit some units to a front line and battle it out using an initiative system that could see one side taking several turns in a row, if they’re lucky, or both sides alternating after each activation. Units can fire all along the line and their effectiveness is a random toss of the dice that takes into account their experience, equipment, leadership, and battlefield status. It acts like a game within a game, and I quite enjoyed settling in to figure out how best to tackle each battle.
The minor ones can be a little straight forward, but it was the major battles that kept me gripped. Here the battle line is divided into a center and two flanks, with no mans land separating the two armies’ starting battle lines. This means that maneuvering, exploiting terrain, and adequately allocating reserves become the name of the game. I really appreciated how this system functioned as a whole. It made battles feel important, and when I struggled my way to meet the Confederate army at Manassas, much later than in reality, there was weight to the army I brought. I had to actually use them.
That’s not to say Victory and Glory is perfect. It has flaws, some more grating than others. There are some bugs here and there, like the ‘undo’ button only sometimes working correctly. It managed to eat a card I played, taking the action back but not giving the associated card back. There are visual quality of life things that could be addressed: I don’t understand the lack of consistency between infantry labelled ‘s’ for smoothbore and blank for rifled, and artillery blank for smoothbore and ‘r’ for rifled.
Terrain icons on the battlefield, done up in little top down pictorial squares, also don’t have any tool-tips, and the manual and help menu address them only by name. This left me wondering whether each gray field with dotted trees was a wood or a field. In the end it’s best to consider them all a defensive bonus. Importantly, the AI is very reactive. In one game as the Union, I filled out an army at Washington and never moved. The Confederates did the same in Virginia with multiple armies, but also never moved. I proceeded to run around the west with Grant and cause a lot of problems. I’d recommend setting the AI to ‘Hard’ to get them more engaged.
The naval war is quite abstracted, and be prepared to lose an inordinate amount of warships if you dare send anything less than a fleet to stop Confederate ironclads. Finally, I had numerous issues with the supply. It’s just poorly explained. I was on my fourth game before I stopped losing random units because I hadn’t properly occupied a railway or kept soldiers in occupied towns. I still don’t know how I lost four units because an army left Memphis to occupy the ground south of it, despite having the city and a string of railroads occupied all the way back to St. Louis. Definitely frustrating.
But the beautiful board game aesthetic, pretty music, complex grand strategy layer, and excellent battles still come together to make a pretty appealing package. I think players could get several games out of Victory and Glory before totally mastering the system, especially if the AI is set to hard. If you have any passing interest in the American Civil War or want to see one of the better “board game” style PC wargames, give Victory and Glory a look.